FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Tampa Bay Rays will play the Cuban National Team on March 22 in Havana. President Obama will be in attendance, along with Derek Jeter, as well as Luis Tiant and Jose Cardenal to represent Cuba’s legacy to the major leagues.

ESPN will televise the game and “Sports Center’’ will be on the scene.

The Miami Marlins would have been the logical choice. My guess is they passed, knowing it would create a negative reaction among the huge number of Cubans in the Miami area that remain ardently opposed to any thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations as long as the Castros are in power.

“I am happy to see this,’’ Tony Oliva said. “What did that embargo do for all those years beside hurt the [Cuban] people?’’

Oliva was in the last group of Cuban baseball prospects to leave the country legally in April 1961. He has been associated with the Twins in some form for the 55 years since then.

Obama’s strategy has been an olive branch can lead to better things for the Cuban people than using the big stick of economic hardship. The President’s attendance at the ballgame seems to be another example of momentum in that direction, but there is also a presidential election in November that could slow down this reconciliation substantially.

Who knows? Maybe there would be enough pressure from U.S. businesses fully on board with this New Deal with Cuba that any new president will choose not to stop it.

If that’s the case, the fourth World Baseball Classic to be held next March could be the most-interesting by far. It’s my guess the Cuban team in the 2017 WBC would include major leaguers who defected playing alongside players who remained in Castro’s Cuba.

Mike Radcliff, the Twins’ vice president of player personnel, said: “I agree with that. I think we will have some big leaguers playing for Cuba in the next WBC.’’

Which could lead eventually to Cuban players coming here freely to pursue the big leagues, and returning home at will, which would be superb for all involved


The Twins and professional baseball in Cuba:

*Pedro Ramos was the last MVP of the Cuban (Winter) League in 1961. A couple of months later, Pistol Pete shut out the Yankees 6-0 in the Twins’ first-ever game.

*Camilo Pascual, AL strikeout champ in Twins’ first three seasons [1961-63], was the Cuban League MVP in 1956.

*Joe Cambria, the man who signed Pascual, Ramos, Tony Oliva, etc. for the Griffiths, also founded Havana’s minor league team – the Sugar Kings [1954-60].

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